“That’s my good boy. You ready? You alright? That’s my good boy. Nice job. Good boy. You’re alright. There you go. That’s a good boy. Here we go.”
With a voice as smooth as silk, Brian Schroder lets go with a constant stream of calming chatter as he climbs a small set of steps and throws his chap-covered leg over the saddle cinched to the 1,500-pound, three-year-old longhorn steer that he’s named Mr. Piney.
The steer with 78-inch horns hardly flinches.
A few minutes later and the pair are ambling down the road to the delight of those happening to be driving by.
“He’s used to moving out,” Schroder said. “He’s not going to be a reining horse. We don’t do dressage. He just stretches out in a long walk, and there we go.”
Mr. Piney and Schroder have been turning heads all summer long on their rides down Wilcox Lane northeast of Hamilton, on the trails around the large-white “C” above Corvallis and a few stops in Hamilton.
“We’re headed to Dairy Queen soon,” Schroder said. “I’m going to ride him through the drive-through. I just want to do that. I don’t know why.”
Schroder purchased Mr. Piney from Darol Dickinson of the Dickinson Cattle Company in Barnesville, Ohio, two and a half years ago when the steer was about six months old.
“He’s the premier longhorn breeder on the planet,” Schroder said. “He’s been raising these things for 50 years. He’s known far and wide all around the world.”
When he told the Dickinson family he was looking for a riding steer, they came up with 150 possibilities.
Mr. Piney stood out from them all.
“He just had a look about him,” Schroder remembered. “A calmness that I liked.”
“This is nothing new for us,” he said. “We rode our first saddle steer in 1985. So acquiring Mr. Piney and turning him into a saddle steer seems something natural and normal to me…I was raised around livestock — horses and cattle — and was always interested in those left-handed things that others didn’t seem to consider much.”
“There aren’t too many people who would have the wherewithal to want to attempt to ride a longhorn steer,” Schroder said.
Originally, Schroder thought he would train the steer to serve as oxen to pull a cart.
“He would have made a wonderful ox,” he said. “He pulls our little buggy around. He will do about whatever it is that you ask of him. He has the willingness that you look for. You have to find a calf who wants the job.”
After all, it’s not a natural thing for cattle to be ridden. Schroder said they need to be convinced that it’s an OK thing to do.
“You have to make the right things easy and wrong things difficult,” he said. “If everything you do with them turns out wrong, they will lose interest. You have to develop a process that keeps the calf interested and makes it fun for them.”
They don’t really understand discipline.
“If you’d use spurs on him, he would quit you,” Schroder said. “I just give him a little squeeze with my legs and sit up in saddle little bit and feed him the rein a little bit. It doesn’t take much to get him to go. He’s very smart.”
“We just find that balance,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. Finding that middle ground that works for both of us. He gets what he wants out of the deal, and I get what I want. Anyone could handle him. It’s not that complicated. You just have to have a vision of fairness.”
Schroder spent years as a farrier. He learned it was a lot easier when a horse was willing to work with him and that a simple thanks goes a long way.
“I thank my horses verbally,” he said. “I genuinely thank them. It sets a tone of humility. You have to be humble when you’re working around these animals. When you start to think you know anything about them, they will prove that you don’t.”
“The notion that we’re their boss and we are dominant over them gets taken out of context,” he said. “That has to be tempered. You have to be the employer they want to work for. You can very easily talk them into not wanting to work for you.”
“That’s the most intriguing part about all of this is finding that balance you need to be able to pull this thing off,” he said.
When Mr. Piney matures, his ivory white with black-tipped horns will measure at least 120 inches.
The steer already knows just how long they are.
“If he wants to tip his head, he’ll take that horn and put it right up over my head,” Schroder said. “He likes to miss things by about an inch. He didn’t miss that post right over there the other day and it kind of shook the whole earth.”
Schroder puts a set of cowbells on his steer as a safety measure.
“When you’re leading him on foot with your back to him, the bells make a nice slow rhythm,” he said. “If that rhythm suddenly changes into something faster, you get an immediate warning that you better be moving your feet.”
Schroder plans to get another five longhorns at his place sometime soon to begin training. After seeing the interest his wife’s posts on Facebook garnered, he wonders if there might not be a market for longhorn steers trained to ride.
“The people I meet on the road have some great reactions when they see us,” he said. “They always tell me that they have to get a picture of this. And they all say this isn’t something you see every day.”
Recently he and Mr. Piney took a break to talk a couple who had stopped for a photo.
Schroder kind of wondered aloud on what the purpose of all this could be.
“They told me that you bring more joy to people driving up this road than you’ll ever know,” he said, with a smile. “Hearing that makes it all worthwhile.”
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